Paper Mache Class
Lesson 5: Paper Mache Clay
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Besides sculpting with strips, there is another way to use paper and paste to create sculpted forms. Instead of applying individual layers of paper, you can blend the paper into the paste beforehand creating a sort of clay that can be used to sculpt objects or smooth the surface of other paper mache pieces. This clay is actually where the original “Papiér-mâché” or “chewed paper” gets its name.

There are many different recipes for for paper mache clay, most of which produce fairly similar results. In this lesson we’ll learn about a few of these types of clay, including some you can buy and some you can make, and then we’ll see how you can use the clay to sculpt the details of a paper mache mask.

In this lesson I'll be using:

Using Store Bought Clay

There are two types of paper clay you can buy pre-made, CelluClay and Paperclay. Paperclay is already moistened into clay form, CelluClay comes dry and just needs water to be added to make it the right consistency. Both air dry in one or two days depending on the thickness of what you've sculpted.

To mix CelluClay, just add water in about a 1:1 ratio and mix with your hands until there are no dry spots. If clay is too wet or sticky, add more pulp, if it is too dry, add more water.

This kind of clay is rougher, more pulpy and less claylike, so it is not great for fine details, but it is good for things like forming over vessels, or sculpting small shapes or figures.

The pre-moistened clay is much finer and behaves a lot like actual clay.

This type is also good for making small sculptural shapes, pressing into molds to create textures, and for adding details to other paper mache objects. I will show you how to do this on a mask later in this lesson. It can also be sanded very effectively to create smooth beautiful surfaces, we will talk more about this in the next lesson.

Making Your Own Clay

The packaged clays are convenient but it’s also really easy, and cheaper, to make your own.

There are a few different recipes, but almost all of them use the same kind of paper, toilet paper! Toilet paper is great for this purpose because it is extremely soft and tears up into a pulp very easily.

There are a lot of different things you can add to the paper to create the clay, but the recipe I like best is one created by the amazing paper mache artist Jonni Gold. Here’s what you need to make it:

  • One roll of cheap toilet paper
  • Joint compound
  • White glue
  • Glycerine or linseed oil (glycerine is a safe option if you are working with kids)
  • An electric mixer (optional)

To create the clay, first, put your roll of toilet paper in a bowl, and pour enough water over it to saturate the paper, this will make it easy to remove the roll from the center.

Once you’ve taken out the roll, use your hands to tear the paper up into fairly small pieces.

Then squeeze most of the water out of the paper and measure about 1 1/2 cups.

Add: 3/4 cup joint compound, 3/4 cup glue. 1/2 cup flour, and 1 Tablespoon glycerine. (The glycerine helps the clay have a smoother texture. It is not absolutely necessary.)

By mixing these together more or less, you can make two qualities of clay, that are good for different things. If you just mix this mixture by hand you will create a clay that is slightly rougher, and better for sculpting forms by itself (more like the CelluClay).

If you use an electric mixer, to really blend the ingredients together you will create a smooth clay that you can use to smooth over pre-existing structures and create details (more like the Creative Paperclay).

Once you've mixed the ingredients together as much as you can, add more flour and mix by hand until the clay is no longer sticky.

Then spread more flour on a countertop or wax paper and knead the clay like you would bread dough.

If you aren't going to use your clay right away, store it in an airtight container, like a plastic bag with all air squeezed out, so it won't dry up.

Or mold. Yup, like that. Yuck!

I’ll show you how you can use this type of clay (the non-moldy kind) in the next section.

Project: Make a Simple Mask

To show you what we can do with the smoother, blended, type of clay, we are going to make a simple mask with some details sculpted in paper mache clay.

Using paper mache to make masks is an age old tradition, and there are a lot of ways to do it. We are going to use wire mesh and paper strips to create a base that is perfectly fitted to our individual faces, and then sculpt over that base with our paper mache clay. In doing this we will also start to see how different paper mache techniques can be combined to create some great effects.

In this lesson we’ll create the shape of the mask, and in the next lesson we’ll learn techniques for smoothing, sealing and painting the mask to make it beautiful and durable.

I’m going to create a specific style of mask that looks a bit dragony or devilish, but you could use these techniques to create any kind of mask you like.

Using Mesh to Create a Mask Armature

To create the base we are going to use sculpting mesh to form the shape which will be covered with paper mache strips. This kind of wire mesh is sold at art supply stores in various densities. It is very formable an stretchable, and used to create the bases of a lot of sculptural projects. I bought the mesh with the smallest holes because the texture is the easiest to cover up, but any will really work in this situation.

To start creating your mask, first take some basic measurements of your own face or whoever you are making a mask for with your cloth measuring tape.

Measure top of forehead to chin, then measure down to the eyes and draw a perpendicular line. Mark the bottom of the nose, and the distance between the eyes, then the distance from ear to ear.

Around this T draw the shape of your mask, thinking about where the shape will sit in relation to the parts of your face. This will be the base, so you don't need to add details, just create the basic shape.

Cut it out of the paper and hold it up to your face to see if you like how it looks. Remember that it will bend and fit more snugly to your face when you make it in the wire, but you can get an idea of how it will look this way.

When you have a shape that you like, lay it on top of your mesh so it is parallel to the grain of the mesh, and use a sharpie to trace around the outline.

Cut the shape out with a pair of craft or serrated scissors. Don't cut out the eye holes just yet. The edges of the mesh can be poky, so be careful not to stab yourself as you are cutting.

Use your hands to carefully begin to shape the mask. I added curves to the edges of the horns and raised ridges to the side fins.

To shape the mask to your face, hold the mesh in front of your face with your index fingers right over the eyes. Press the mesh onto your face, making indentations where your eyes are, moulding over the ridge of your nose, and curving around your forehead and cheeks.

Take the mask off, smooth out any bumps, and adjust the shape so it is the same on both sides. Keep taking the mask on and off and fiddling with it until you have a shape you like. Then use your scissors to cut out the eyes. Before you try the mask on again, make sure you bend the edges of the mesh out slightly around the eyes so it doesn't poke you.

Adding Paper Strips

Once you have your mask armature formed, cover it with paper strips. You can use either glue or flour paste here, whichever you prefer.

Start by covering the front of the mask with strips. Curve the strips to contour around the shape of the mask and tear them off so they end right before the edge.

Cover the whole front of the mask with two layers of strips, and let it dry enough so the strips are sticking to the front and holding their shape.

Then flip the mask over and add two layers of strips to the back in the same way.

Once this layer has mostly dried, you can start taking short strips and wrapping them around the exposed edges of the wire. They should stick to the dried paper on both sides. Use narrow strips on curved areas to create a smooth edge.

To cover points and corners, fold a strip over on itself like this:

Using Paper Mache Clay to Add Details

Once your mask base has dried thoroughly, you can use paper mache clay to add some details to it if you like. Because the clay can be sculpted and formed to create any shape, it is a much more accurate way to add small details on top of an a paper mache base than trying to use the strips themselves.

You can use either the homemade clay or one of the store-bought paper clays for this. I tried the home made clay on one mask and the Creative Paperclay on another so you can see the difference.

Either way, all you need to do is take pieces of the clay and stick it onto the dry paper mask. Smooth the edges of the clay into the paper to blend it and give it a good grip. If the clay seems dry and isn't sticking well, rub a little water on the surface of the clay that you are attaching to the mask.

To help smooth the clay you can also wet the surface slightly and rub it with your fingers. You can also use sculpting tools or stamps to create texture or details.

On these masks I used the clay to add some facial details to the mask I was creating to make it look a bit more dragon-ish. You can see the details I created with the home-made clay on the left and the Paperclay on the right. As you can see, it's a little harder to get smooth details with the homemade clay.

You could add as many details as you want, and even cover the whole mask with clay. But keep in mind that the more clay you add, the heavier the mask will be. Covering the whole mask with a thin layer of clay will let you create a really smooth surface when combined with sanding though.

Coming Up...

From the examples I've shown in this lesson, I'm sure you can see that paper mache clay is a very versatile and useful material. The recipe I shared is only one of many versions of this type of clay that are good for different purposes, so feel free to experiment and come up with your own version.

In addition, the wire mesh method we used to create the mask base is very useful for creating armatures for all kinds of projects. When you bring the two techniques (traditional paper mache and paper mache clay) together you can really start to create some interesting shapes with nice details. Whatever you've chosen to create with these techniques, share a photo of your project below so we can see what you've made!

In the next lesson we'll learn some painting and finishing techniques for paper mache and paper mache clay while we finish our mask.


Share a photo of your finished project with the class!

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